• uganda orphans

3 Ugandan Orphans that Changed My Life

It was December in Uganda and the kids at boarding school came home for winter break. The couple running the NGO ­St. Nicholas Uganda Children’s Fund thought it’d be a great idea for me to meet a few of the Ugandan orphans they help put in school. The organization is incredible and they get these kids all the supplies, clothes and money they need for class… but more than that they give them emotional support. They care about these kids like their own. Matter of fact, they left their own families for years to be here taking care of their new kids.

uganda orphans  Three sisters

I had a meeting place and time. 30 minutes late (Ugandans are not known for time keeping. The girls didn’t have watches so they guessed) they girls arrived with a baby boy in tow. Three sisters: Sarah, Michelle, and Alison (FYI, those are fake names…). They handed me the baby, laughing, “white people love our babies!” and told me they were watching him for their neighbor. They did it every day for no pay. Within ten minutes the diaper-less “Prince” peed on me, something I came to get used to as not all can afford diapers here.

I went to their house for lunch. The girls started off as strangers but were like family within a month. Ugandans are incredibly hospitable. In India, people look at me like an ATM. I NEVER had that feeling in Uganda, in fact they insisted upon paying for things and made it very difficult to buy for them.

uganda orphans

uganda orphans We ate lunch together often, dinners too. Mostly cabbage, potatoes with g-nut sauce, and rice that we had to sift the rocks out of.

cooking ugandan dishes

uganda orphans

cooking ugandan dishes

The girls are orphans. The oldest, and caretaker, Michelle, was 17 at the time. She had been raising her sisters for four years. They told me their father died of tuberculosis and their mother then died of a broken heart, which is “very common”

The girls shared a twin size bed and one pillow. The three of them were just too big for that. The NGO was getting bunk beds made for them and my parents and I got them blankets, pillows, and Christmas presents.

I asked the girls what they wanted. “High Heels!” said Sarah and Alison. Michelle said “cooking oil and a new pan”. She truly was the mother of the three. Christmas morning they opened presents from their American sponsors through the NGO as well as a few from my parents and me. 

uganda orphans

uganda orphans4

uganda orphans

uganda orphans

For less than 100 USD the girls now had brand new outfits for Christmas day church service. I cringed when I saw the shoes they wanted. Did you know that the clothes donated to Salvation Army and Goodwill are sorted through in the U.S. and the unwanted remainders go to Africa? It wasn’t shocking to see people with U.S. football shirts on. The shoes were clear heeled and sparkly aka stripper shoes. If you didn’t know what stripper shoes were and you were 17, I suppose you’d think they were the most gorgeous shoes in the world, like Cinderella’s glass slippers. I talked them into getting some mostly black heels instead.

uganda orphans

We got loads of food, a live chicken for Christmas day, and all the cooking supplies they needed. They only eat meat once a year because it’s so expensive. Expensive being *I think * less than 10 dollars for a chicken.

Michelle came to me a few days later and said, “I hate to ask for more from you, but all the girls have their hair done…” Michelle’s head had been shaved at school and she wanted artificial hair put in. It was 10 dollars. She looked great with her new braids.

The girls showed me photos of the dresses they made for a school dance. They made them out of their school bed sheets.

uganda orphans

A few days before I left a new girl was there. Their “auntie” had dropped the girl off and said, “she’s yours now, and I’m leaving.” Their “auntie” had found a new man that didn’t want a child. This is apparently common in Uganda. I can’t remember if it was their cousin or sister that they didn’t know about, but Michelle now had another mouth to feed.

One thing about developing and third world countries that I love is how much pride they take in appearance. The girls would wake up at sunrise, wash their clothes each morning, laying it out to quickly dry in the scorching sun, iron everything with a coal iron!, and finish getting ready. By 11 they would have food over the coals outside to slow cook while they ran out to do errands. Lunch was at 3 and tea was for dinner. Once the sun went down it was bedtime.

uganda orphans They gave me a card that played music. It was extremely meaningful because in comparison to how little they have it was such a generous gift. The nurses I worked with gave me cards too. It shows how caring Ugandans are.  They are giving and they appreciate gifts and say thank you over and over. In India, it’s not in the culture to thank people, which is frustrating sometimes.

They wrote a letter to my parents saying that they think of me as their sister now, which makes my mom and dad their mom and dad too. It was touching.

These girls want to be teachers and doctors. They are withstanding all odds. If that doesn’t put things into perspective, I don’t know what does.




About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Shalu Sharma May 24, 2014 at 10:20 am - Reply

    People look at you like an ATM in India, but still you insist living there. Why?

    • Rachel Jones May 24, 2014 at 11:45 am - Reply

      When I was a backpacker they did, but in my local village after being here over a year it is different. Just because I get ripped off often in India doesn’t make me dislike the country, that’s why I write posts about how much I love India & encourage people to travel to India.

  2. Karyn @ Not Done Journeyling May 24, 2014 at 7:09 am - Reply

    That’s beautiful. What amazing girls! Particularly Michelle, who has taken on the responsibility of caring for all of them and their new family member.

    They are also stunning too…I love the photo of the three of them, where the one in the middle is wearing the long black skirt. She’s so photogenic! I know this is the least of her priorities, but she could do modeling!

    • Rachel Jones May 24, 2014 at 11:48 am - Reply

      Yes, she really had a lot of responsibility. and you’re right she COULD totally model! the girls are gorgeous. There was a girl, Maria, I met there that was seriously like the next world supermodel. I told her she needed to act on it! she’s like “ahh no way, i am too skinny”. I’m like, Exactly! lol

  3. Catherine May 25, 2014 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    They sound like three amazing girls. So inspiring that they’re so positive and caring given their circumstances. This is such an eye-opener – thanks for sharing :)

  4. Rebekah May 26, 2014 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Oh I love this post. I grew up in Zambia and I wish more people travelled to Africa. People think its dangerous and scary, but its so beautiful and you can’t go to Africa without being changed.

    • Rachel Jones May 26, 2014 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Thats neat you grew up there! I’m glad you commented, I’m going to have to spend some time checking out your blog now and see how you came to be living in Zambia as a kid!

  5. Di May 26, 2014 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Love this blog Rachel, and would love to return to Zambia. I didnt have my blog when I was there last year so would love to go back and explore more. Thanks Rachel!

  6. John May 27, 2014 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    You know Rachel, I have found the Ugandan people so caring and compassionate, not the politicans, but the people, I personally support a little girl in Kampala, her name is Mercy, I think about her every day

    • Rachel Jones May 27, 2014 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      That’s great that you help out there. What a lucky girl Mercy is!

  7. Ari May 28, 2014 at 2:45 am - Reply

    Absolutely beautiful! <3 Your life story is so wonderfully written and touches so many lives.

  8. Fiona May 28, 2014 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    After spending nearly two years in Malawi, stories like that would tug at my heart strings. Some of what people go through simply to go to school is amazing. Really makes you appreciate your own life

  9. Jessica of Curiosity Journeys May 30, 2014 at 7:58 am - Reply

    Wow, what an incredible and life changing experience! It is amazing how they stay postive through all they have been through.

    Hopefully Africa will be on my list of places to visit in the near future. I´d love to go!

    • Rachel Jones May 30, 2014 at 10:50 am - Reply

      They were awesome. It just really puts things into perspective. I would love to go back to Africa. I spent time really only in the villages so I haven’t seen the touristy Africa at all, and I do want to! Have thought about doing the east coast!

  10. Heather May 30, 2014 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    This post explains so well what is so hard to put into words: how African can be so absolutely captivating for so many different reasons. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Rachel Jones June 4, 2014 at 9:41 am - Reply

      Thanks for you comment, you’re right about africa! sometimes it’s best explained through a story.

  11. Sandy June 13, 2014 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    I have recently discovered your blog, and I love it…this story, on particular, is amazing and shows me the kind, beautiful person that you are! But please ( from reading your other CS stories, be careful!)

    • Rachel Jones June 13, 2014 at 10:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading Sandy! I am being much more careful, my boyfriend makes sure of that lol!! :p

  12. Rak Sepatu Minimalis December 18, 2014 at 4:29 am - Reply

    There iss certainly a llot to know about this subject. I like all of the
    points you made.

  13. Kristin of YesNomads.com February 6, 2015 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    Loved reading it. The story of you and your girls is very personal. You are totally right about the appearances. They take much more pride in it than most people in developed countries.
    I would have loved to see your face when they wanted to buy the stripper shoes ;-)
    Thanks for sharing Rachel.
    Cheers Kristin

    • Rachel Jones February 11, 2015 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      hahah yes the stripper shoes was a pretty hilarious moment.. i’ll never forget it!

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